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20 July 2017


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History is written by the victorious but who won in PNG?

We have not dreamed ourselves
So how can we know our history?
No scribes have penned our legend
So friends tell worn out mythology
We silence the voices of our truths
So grand leaders can play monopoly
We accept any alternative fact
To loosen the threads of reality
We ate our children's future
To feed them our hypocrisy.

Thanks for the suggestions! And apologies for only replying to comments after five days.

I definitely think a proper history of PNG is in order. There is one catch - I neglected to mention this in my original comment, which evolved into the post above, but my PhD is not actually about PNG history. This is the irony of it: I'm learning tons about PNG history at the moment, purely because I can, because I've got access to many books about PNG (although, as I said, most end their story in the 1970s) in my university library. So, just at the moment, I don't have the academic credentials to write a proper history of PNG - however, that does not mean that I will not write at least a kind of popular history of PNG at some point - time permitting, I'd love to be able to help PNG in the limited ways I can.

My own PhD, though, involves research that I would definitely love to apply to PNG as well: I'm investigating ways that role-playing video games can be used to convey traditional cultures. The main example I'm focusing on are the Australian Aboriginal people, but similar projects are certainly needed in PNG, so that PNG people can better understand their own ancestral past.

PNG has two separate, but related needs when it comes to history: the first is to ensure that its recent history and the present day are understood by its people, and by its neighbours. The second is to ensure that PNG stays in touch with that part of its history that pre-dates written Western records. Even though PNG is doing better in this regard than many countries (the various annual shows help to at least keep traditional dances and costumes alive), a lot is being lost.

Read 'A Short History of Papua New Guinea', a paperback (February 8, 1993) by John Dademo Waiko.

That was an excellent resource, David, but much has happened over the last 24 years both in terms of current events in PNG and our understanding of its history - KJ

Jacob, after you gain your PhD why don't you write a post colonial history of PNG.

Your PhD will give you the correct training to conduct research on PNG, and there are lots of sources you could research, including the multitude of incidents mentioned here in Attitude.

Also in back copies of the leading PNG newspapers, and there are scads of educated PNG professionals who have lived through the post colonial era who are easily contactable via the internet.

There is an immense history of post colonial PNG waiting to be published, so why don't you publish it? You should aim to producing a tome like Sinclair's The Middle Kingdom, or The Sky Travellers by Bill Gammage.

These are colonial histories, but in the same context, you could produce a post colonial history, especially mentioning the declining interest in Australia in its former colony, and research the reasons why this has happened.

Such a work could be the catalyst that sparks renewed interest in PNG.

Like Jakub, I studied history after leaving PNG. This was in 1975, just after the country became independent.

I majored in Australian History because I had only ever learnt British History at school. Basically, as a child, I was taught more about the history of Birmingham or Liverpool or even Hull than I was about even my own state capital of Adelaide.

During the course of my under graduate studies the topic of Australia's involvement in PNG never arose other than tangentially in discussions about the two World Wars and their immediate aftermath.

As an ex-kiap I found this a bit disconcerting and so resolved to at least do something specifically relating to PNG in my final year at the university.

So, I took a course in Pacific History run by a very fine historian, Dr David Hilliard (now an Associate Professor). The entire class was composed of about half a dozen students. Pacific History evidently was not a fashionable topic.

For my very last piece of assessable work at the university, I wrote a book review for James Sinclair's masterful history of Australia's patrol officers in PNG ("Kiap", Pacific Publications, 1981). Sinclair's book no doubt rests on the shelves of many ex-kiaps like me and, probably, sits quietly and largely undisturbed in a few university libraries as well.

David was kind enough to give me a High Distinction for my work. In doing so, he observed that it was the only significant piece of work on PNG ever submitted to him by a student, at least up until that time (1982).

I very much doubt that things will have improved much.

Hopefully, there is someone in contemporary PNG who is willing and able to do the work required to write a history of PNG in the modern era. However, I expect that such a work may have a pretty limited market as the demand for modern histories of PNG does not seem to be there.

There is a challenge for Jakub. There has got to be a D.Lit. in it.

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